Friday, September 12, 2014

One Small BabyStep, One Giant Leap for a Stronger Family

All parents want the best for their children: the best education, the best opportunities, the best health care, and the very best of ourselves. And though we may have high hopes for our children, we may often lose sight of the practical realities of parenting. Just think about the diapers! No one likes them, but we can spend an upwards of $550 on them in the first year of parenting, or around $46 a month. For those mothers living in poverty, this annoyance quickly becomes a burden that only exacerbates the stresses surrounding parenting.

BabySteps is a local community outreach program that aims to help limited-income mothers and families with these problems as a program of Family Advocates and a ministry of Saint Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral. They offer courses and a program shop for any mother and family in need, regardless of denomination or background. I had the pleasure of attending their service-learning orientation, learning more about the work they do for my community and for Boise State students.

Allison Demarest, the director of BabySteps, walked me through the goals of the program, chief among them the creation of a safe and inviting place for families. I sat on a cozy couch, looking across the different toys and books spread across a floor that told me kids were in play not too long ago, just as the classrooms felt inviting and lived in. The classes, taught by a small army of volunteers, range from baby sign language to nutrition, introducing kids to pets and taking the time out of the day to pamper mom. This multidisciplinary approach doesn't aim to teach any one method of parenting as right or wrong; instead, BabySteps hopes to give mothers the information they need to make the choices they want to in and for their new families. There's also a father's group on Thursdays open to any dad, with the program or not, looking to meet other fathers and unwind.

These classes aren't without incentive as I was shown the points system. Mothers receive points for attending these classes, and extra points for attending with support. Points can also be earned by staying drug free, going to a dental appointment, breastfeeding, and even getting a library card. These points aim to keep mothers both engaged in the program and their community while encouraging healthy choices for their children. These points can then be spent in a store carrying ever-popular and needed diapers, clothing, wipes, strollers, and more. I was amazed to learn that the store is stocked entirely through community donations!

Our service-learning students can work with BabySteps through two classes: KINES140, Personal Health; and PSYC271, Human Relationships. Students help the daily operations of the program by stocking the store, reviewing points, and interacting with mothers. Demarest joked that students would often be holding babies as mothers took a brief respite while shopping for supplies. She also said that, for many students, BabySteps helped show them the variety of things they could do with their degrees while introducing them to the diversity of their community.

BabySteps is always looking for volunteers, not just service-learning students, as well as donations. If you’d like to pitch in, you can contact Allison Demarest by phone at (208) 432-5601, or by email at

- Daniel Hock, Boise State University Service-Learning Ambassador

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